By Parveen Chopra April 2004 Different from fables and parables, teaching stories have meaning at many levels, and have been used as a tool for spiritual instruction in many wisdom traditions. Now they are also finding use in psychotherapy and education A prince goes to a Zen master and tells him that he wants to be enlightened—and now! Instead of sending him away, the master says it could be arranged. After finding out from the prince that he plays chess very well, the master sets up a game between the visitor and one of his monks who has just a passing knowledge of chess. The condition is: whoever loses will be beheaded. Predictably, the prince starts dominating the game. Soon, however, his conscience starts to prick: “I had come to this monastery for a selfish purpose, but now I may become the cause of this poor monk’s death.” So, feeling compassionate, he deliberately starts playing badly. But playing well was second nature to him, playing badly needs his entire attention. Neither does he want to play too bad a game to make his real move obvious. His nerves stretched, soon he starts sweating profusely. After some time, the master stops the game. “The first lesson is over,” he tells the prince. “You learnt two things today: compassion and concentration. Now go and hug your chess opponent who made it possible.”Two travelling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up on to his shoulders and carried her across the water to the other bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out: “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “Brother,” the second monk replied. “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: “You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for the horses in your stead?” Po Lo replied: “A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse—one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks—is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. My sons can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him.” Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, Kao returned with the news that he had found one. “What kind of a horse is it?” asked the Duke. “Oh, it is a dun coloured mare,” was the reply. However, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. “That friend of yours cannot even distinguish a beast’s colour or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?” Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. “Has he really got as far as that?” he cried. “Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.” When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.An Indian Brahmin was interested in gaining supernatural powers. Learning that a monk in Tibet could grant him his wishes, he undertook an arduous journey through the Himalayas to meet him. The monk told the Brahmin: ‘‘The mantra to gain supernatural powers is simple. Just say Buddham Sharanam Gachchami, Dhammam Sharanam Gachchami, Sangham Sharanam Gachchami three times, but don’t think of monkeys.’’ Content, the Brahmin thought: ‘‘I am such a learned man. Why should I think of monkeys when I chant the mantra?’’ But when he sat down to chant the mantra, the first thought that came to his mind was that of monkeys. Later, all he could think of was monkeys. The monkeys roamed all over his consciousness until he lost his peace of mind. Seeing his condition, the monk smiled: ‘‘If you force your mind to travel in a certain direction, it will go the other way.’’In ancient times itinerant Zen monks when arriving at a monastery could challenge the monks to a theological contest and would be given food and shelter if they won but would have to move on if they lost. There was a monastery occupied by two brothers, one was wise and the other foolish. The foolish monk had but one eye. One night it was raining cats and dogs and an itinerant monk knocked on the door. The wise brother wishing to be kind to the drenched fellow suggested he has a contest with his brother. Within minutes the contest was over. The travelling monk entered the room, bowed and admitted defeat. The wise brother asked: “Tell me what happened?” The other replied: “Your brother is a genius. We decided to debate in silence. I went first and showed a single finger signifying the Buddha. Your brother showed two fingers, meaning the Buddha and his teachings. I replied with three fingers, indicating the Buddha, dharma and the sangha. Your brother replied with coup de gras when he showed me his fist proving that in reality the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha are all one.” The poor monk left in the stormy night. Just then the brother stormed in, angry. “That man was so rude.” “What happened?” The one-eyed brother replied: “We decided to have a silent debate and the first thing he did was to put a single finger up meaning, ‘I see you have only one eye.’ So I put up two fingers out of courtesy to him, meaning, ‘I see you have two eyes.’ But the guy was so rude, he put up three fingers telling me that together the two of us have three eyes. I got so mad, I shook my fist at him, telling him, ‘If you don’t stop talking about eyes, I’m going to punch your lights out.”As the old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a youth ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the young boy, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference.” The young boy looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to the safety of the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.There was an American professor who had made a lifetime’s study of the Japanese tea ceremony. He was the western expert. He heard there was an old man living in Japan who was a master of the tea ceremony. So he made a special trip to Japan to see him. He found the master living in a small house on the outskirts of Tokyo and they sat down to have tea together. The professor immediately started talking about the tea ceremony, his study, all he knew about it and how he was looking forward to sharing his learning with the old man. The old man said nothing, but started to pour tea into the professor’s cup. While the professor talked, the old man continued to pour the tea, the cup filled and the old man kept pouring. The tea split down the sides of the cup in a stream onto the floor, yet the old man did not stop. “Stop!” said the professor. “You are crazy. You can’t fit any more tea in that cup. It’s full.” “I was just practising,” replied the old man, “for the task of attempting to pass learning to a mind that is already full.”Venkatesh Iyer, university don, was worried. His teenage daughter Madhavi was forever tuned in to the pop cacophony the music market was spewing forth with amazing consistency. Instead of raga Shankara or Darbari, the house was resounding with Macarena, Saturday Night and the like. “I must do something,” decided Iyer and drove off to Madhavi’s school one day. “You are absolutely right,” agreed Madhavi’s class teacher, “these pop and rap numbers can hardly be called music. We must save our children from this cultural degeneration.” So off they went to the school principal. “My daughter has no taste in music. What kind of values are you teaching at school?” demanded Iyer of the principal. “You are right, sir. We must teach our students what music really is. They shouldn’t be listening to this frivolous trash. From now on we shall make classical music compulsory for all our students,” promised the principal. Iyer was a happy man. His daughter and hundreds of children like her would now develop a refined taste and reject the junk being sold to them in the name of pop music. He was really very happy. He drove back home humming: ‘Hey Macarena’.A dervish was walking along a river bank. He was deep in thought, deliberating upon theological issues. Suddenly he heard a shout, someone was repeating the dervish call. “There is no point in that,” he said to himself, “because the man is mispronouncing the syllables. Instead of YA HU, he is saying U YA HU.” But then he thought it was his duty to correct this person and make him understand the idea behind the sound. So he hired a boat, and set off to the island in the river, from where the sound emanated. There he found a man dressed in a dervish robe, repeating the sacred phrase. “My friend,” said the first dervish: “You are m
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